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Davis, California

Monday, June 17, 2024

Column: A difficult position

In a matter of a few short months, I will be applying at countless public schools in the Sacramento area, desperately seeking a teaching position in the social sciences. For those who have made their abode under a large igneous formation lately, school districts up and down the state are slashing their budgets and laying off the teachers they already have.

This makes it all the more painful for me to be on board with cutting the necessary $26.5 billion from the state budget next year to close the yawning deficit, without raising taxes or extending the existing ones set to expire. Obviously, the financial situation of K-12 education would worsen notably.

Just how far short our schools would be without those additional “revenues” (taxes) would depend on how the legislature and the governor react to the failure of the proposed June tax-o-ramathon special election. So far, Gov. Jerry Brown and most Democrats in the legislature have been very quiet about what exactly would be cut, almost universally claiming that they don’t want to be seen as scaring people.

“It would be the end of the world,” Brown practically said recently, “but I don’t want to be seen as fear-mongering.” Too late.

The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office in Sacramento recently issued a report estimating the cuts to California’s education system. Of more concern to me personally in the LAO’s delightful package of possibilities is a whopping $4.6 billion reduction in K-12 education. Of more concern to most of the student body is the raising of UC tuition by yet another 7 percent and the shaving off of another 10 percent in “personnel costs,” whatever that means.

Once again, these suggested cuts are contingent upon the state bringing in no additional tax revenue and the decisions of our infinitely wise leaders. But as the battle between Republicans and Democrats goes down in the Capitol to see whether the people will get to vote on the tax extensions/increases, it’s important for us to remember the stakes.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) visited UCD last week to discuss these very issues during a journalism class, as reported recently in The California Aggie.

“That’s a weak argument,” Steinberg said in response to the Republicans’ claim that the taxes won’t be approved anyway, so why have them on the ballot. “The voters ought to have a choice. It’s like saying the Democrats won the legislative majority in 2010, and the people have spoken, so maybe we shouldn’t have elections in 2012.”

Steinberg is right. He’s even more right than he knows. While I really don’t think the voters should raise taxes this June, it’s hard to insist the people are forbidden to have that choice to make. If a majority of Californians are willing to take some of the highest taxes in the nation and make them higher, more power to ’em (and more hardship for taxpayers).

But it’s equally hard for the Democrats to refuse to put pension reform or a spending cap before the voters, both of which are also solutions to the deficit. How convenient for Steinberg to sound like such a friend of the people, while only allowing his own proposals to go before us. What kind of a choice is that for voters?

Pension reform, detailed places to cut and a spending cap are all excellent topics for a column of their own. But it is ridiculous for Steinberg to claim Californians should be able to decide on Democratic ideas but not Republican ones. His faux populism is really just a front to force liberal solutions on the state.

The reality is that the ruling Democrats are so thoroughly wedded to their high-cost programs that there is no alternative for them. Most of the spending has very good intentions, such as educating our young people and helping out the poor. But there comes a time when reality must set in, when borrowing billions more or taxing billions more – or both – is much worse than the laudable goals of left-wing Golden State idealists.

“My view is that my colleagues on the other side of the aisle are in a difficult position, and that in the end, they will step up and give the people the choice to determine their own futures,” Steinberg said last week referring to Republicans. Too bad the exact same argument applies to his own “side of the aisle.”

Reach across the aisle and e-mail ROB OLSON at rwolson@ucdavis.edu.


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